It was World Mental Health Day earlier this month, on October 10 — a day designated by the World Health Organization to raise awareness of mental health issues globally and to mobilize efforts in support of mental health. It’s a solid reminder to embrace the progress we’ve made in mental health support but also recognize that there’s a long way to go as personal and work situations, the environment, the economy, politics, and many more macro stressors are front and center, day in and day out, as globalization and digital have collided to form this super-connected world we live in. This is leading to more stress, anxiety, depression, and other mental health complications across the broad severity spectrum.

The latest United States Census Bureau Household Pulse Survey (Sept. 15–27) found that, in the past two weeks:

  • 17.7 million US adults felt down, depressed, or hopeless more than half the days that the data was collected, and another 20.5M felt those feelings nearly every day.
  • 19.5 million US adults felt unable to stop or control worrying more than half the days, and another 24.9M couldn’t stop or control worrying nearly every day.

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill recently canceled classes and gave students a “wellness day” as authorities investigated two possible suicides over the past weekend. And there seem to be countless stories of suicides peppered throughout the news at any given day. Recent Facebook whistleblower activity is having us further reexamine the effects of social media use on the mental health of some individuals. We are in a mental health crisis, and it began well before the pandemic but will be exacerbated further by the impact from COVID today and from long COVID in the future.

Mental health is complex. Support needs are constantly shifting. And individuals can fall into a broad spectrum that exists among and between preventive mental health care (around aspects like stress and mindfulness) and diagnosable conditions such as general anxiety and major depressive disorders.

“Go Faster Alone But Farther Together” Applies To Mental Health — And It Starts With Lowering Costs

There’s some good news. Today, multiple stakeholders (healthcare providers, health insurers, employers, education systems, and government) in an individual’s mental health are getting involved to reduce barriers of cost and engagement for the end user; tomorrow, these stakeholders will team up for greater impact — and a viable and effective mental health ecosystem will be born.

Mental health support faces a large list of barriers to properly supporting all individuals. But cost is a major barrier. Decreasing cost will not only get more support solutions into the hands of more individuals, but it will also allow those with low-cost solutions to access more high-touch and high-quality models when needed. With stakeholders sharing the costs of supporting and engaging an individual, the industry can make significant strides toward universal mental health support.

Today, stakeholders are subsidizing the cost of mental health services due to a wide variety of benefits, including reduced presenteeism and absenteeism at work, lower costs of chronic condition management in cases of mental health condition comorbidity, reduced burnout, healthier habits, and much more.

Tomorrow, we think the following will occur:

  • Stakeholder investment and partnerships will increase as the benefits of mental health programs galvanize. Third-party researchers (like Forrester Research), mental health vendors, and stakeholders are increasingly able to measure and quantify these “soft” benefits.
  • Stakeholders will come together under common ground to fill the gaps around a shared goal: comprehensively supported individuals. This will further subsidize cost, drive efficiency, and drive engagement for the individual.

Of course, the tendrils of bureaucracy plaguing health systems can hamper these activities. But as the overall healthcare industry evolves, Forrester is hopeful that, at least in the area of mental health, an effective ecosystem will evolve to help drive down cost and improve both access to and the quality of mental health services in the US.

(Paul-Julien Giraud contributed to this blog.)